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These Liverpool Properties Renovated By Acclaimed Architects Will Forever Be Affordable To Locals

Award-winning architects attempt to breathe life into an impoverished Liverpool neighborhood.

By Jeff Vasishta December 14, 2016
Granby Four Streets. Photo courtesy of Ronnie Hughes.

For many Americans, the city of Liverpool is synonymous with two things: The Beatles and soccer (or football, as it is known everywhere other than the US). But for many Brits, it’s known for its unique sense of humor, its university and its poverty. Socially conscious, 18-person architecture collection Assemble have turned their attention to the long standing inner city woes. They regenerated derelict houses in some of the city’s most blighted neighborhoods—with a stipulation that they always be affordable.

Last year, Assemble’s work in the troubled Toxteth neighborhood at the Granby Four Streets earned them a prestigious Turner Prize. Now five of the two-bedroom properties will be rented out, and three will be sold with a clause stipulating they must always be resold below market value. Rates will be calculated using the median wage for the city’s workers (the average house there costs around £121,000 or $154,000). The three houses for sale will be listed for £92,000 (about $116,000).

Usually, the result from urban regeneration with architecturally significant buildings is the displacement of the existing population —the essence of gentrification. Assemble believe in putting principles before profit.

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“Once you take a house out of being primarily an asset, it makes a very different attitude to who buys it and why they want it,” Assemble member Anthony Engi-Meacock told The Architects’ Journal. “There’s a real value in that.” All prospective buyers of their Liverpool properties must demonstrate a connection to the immediate Toxteth neighborhood. It’s estimated that under half of the homes in Toxteth are still inhabited.

Assemble is also converting two houses that are beyond repair into a winter garden, while a derelict corner shop is being turned into a permanent workshop.

Toxteth community’s attempts to regenerate itself began when residents formed a land trust and purchased derelict houses from the city. The area had been on a gradual decline since the 1981’s race riots, which saw buildings torched and 500 people arrested.

RelatedHouses Designed By Famous Architects Are Tough To Sell In Modern Market

The seeds of change were planted six years ago, when residents organized a guerrilla gardening group to green the streets, with tubs and wild planting that have since won a Northwest in Bloom award. A monthly market selling vintage clothes, cakes and Caribbean food continued the feelgood factor.

“It completely turned the atmosphere around: Now we had a pretty street that we could all be proud of,” resident Eleanor Lee told the Guardian. “Even if it was still empty.”

Much of England’s major cities like London and Manchester have seen the same cycle of gentrification and displacement that has occurred in New York. Similarly, there are socially conscious organizations in poor Big Apple neighborhoods that are attempting to grow the community from within—rather than replace it. The Dream Big Foundation is one such non-profit that has helped fund local projects in the impoverished Brownsville section of Brooklyn. Coffee shops, bakeries and restaurants that are not plexiglass encased Chinese take-outs or fast food but are often seen as the green shoots of regeneration. To this end, Dream Big has helped fund Entrepreneurs Cafe and the Three Black Cats Cafe and Cakery.

Affordable Housing initiatives have been at the crux of Bill de Blasio’s administration—with low income neighborhoods such as East New York and Brownsville targeted for initiatives. Projects such as The Bergen Saratoga Apartments and Prospect Plaza are attempts to service the communities’ housing needs. But as in England, the demand outweighs the supply, and many view de Blasio’s extensive construction plans, which only apportions a relatively small (usually 25 percent or under) number of units as affordable, as a backdoor way of ushering in more gentrification.

Jeff Vasishta

ABOUT THE AUTHOR Jeff Vasishta

ABOUT THE AUTHOR Jeff Vasishta

Jeff is a writer, husband and father but not necessarily in that order. As a music journalist he counts Prince, Beyonce and Quincy Jones amongst those he’s interviewed. He's also owned and flipped homes in Brooklyn, NJ, CT and PA.

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